Friday, July 12, 2013

Writing Quality & Practice

"Practice makes perfect."
When I was a child and was told this, I never thought to question if "perfect" was, in fact, a reasonable goal. As an adult, I am certain that the idea of perfection is an obstacle to growth, learning and getting things done.

I'm thinking specifically about the teaching of writing. What are the right ratios of practice, guidance, and breaking the whole into parts?  If you've ever played a sport or an instrument, you know the importance of practice. Without regular practice, you are unlikely to improve. However, if all you do is practice, you may very well be practicing and learning in a way that is inefficient or incorrect. Regular guidance is just as important as regular practice.
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One of my strongest beliefs as a teacher is that students need to write. Often. Students need to write for real communication, not only to satisfy teacher's goals, but to express, develop and understand their own ideas. With blogs giving us the ability to instantly publish, many teachers (and parents) fear letting their students (and themselves) look bad by publishing work that isn't "perfect."

I go back and forth. I have no problem letting kids write the way they write, up to a point. However, a person's writing should not stay the same over time. There should be growth, in both content and form.  And this is where teaching plays its role. This is also a great reason to have students blog.

I like Seth Godin's advice to "Write poorly. In Public. Every day."
Godin compares writing to talking and says that we are good at talking precisely because we do it freely and often. We never get "talker's block."
But are we really so good at talking? 
There are plenty of lazy talkers-- people with poor grammar and boring usage. Plenty of words that don't add anything to anything, that might be better left unspoken. Talk, unless recorded, is cheap. The words, once spoken float away with the breeze. Talk is easy, precisely because of its ephemeral nature. Writing has permanence. Writing is craft. It is meant to be edited, changed, suffered over and only then, read by another.

I edit my blog posts constantly. Almost every time I re-read one of my own posts, I notice something that seems awkward or a missing punctuation. Perhaps this is one of the reasons I don't post frequently. I worry over the words I use, the message I'm trying to convey.

I notice, too, that (as I learned on Sesame Street when I was little) everyone makes mistakes. Oh yes they do. It doesn't matter how educated the writer nor how many editors have proofed the article. Mistakes happen- in writing, in talking, in everything.

Here's my point- we learn by doing. We will make mistakes. Learning happens when we start making new (better?) mistakes. Students learn to write by writing. Writing matters. Please, let kids write and publish!

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